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From Humanism to Transhumanism

Technology, which started to show dominance over biological processes some years ago, is finally overtaking biology as the science of life

By José Cordeiro | 6 January 2013

Transhumanism is a new philosophy has been proposed to continue the ideas of humanism in a new world where science and technology are the major drivers of change. Julian Huxley, the English evolutionary biologist and humanist that became the first director-general of UNESCO and founder of the World Wildlife Fund, wrote that:

The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.

“I believe in transhumanism”: once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Pekin man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny.

Huxley originally published those words in his essay Religion Without Revelation (1927), which was later reprinted in his book New Bottles for New Wine (1957). Other scientists and philosophers discussed similar ideas in the first half of the 20th century, and these ideas slowly helped to create new philosophical movements considering nature and humanity in a continuous state of flux and evolution. English scientist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane and French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin helped to identify new trends in the future evolution of humanity. Thanks to them and many others, the philosophy of transhumanism has greatly advanced since Huxley first used that word. The philosophy of Extropy and Transhumanism explore the boundless possibilities for future generations, while we approach a possible technological singularity.

“Humans” can no longer be regarded as a stable category let alone one which occupies a privileged position in relation to all that is subsumed under the category of the non-human. On the contrary, humans must be understood as a tenuous entity which is related to the animal, the “natural” and indeed other humans as well. Humans are at a crossroads like other natural species that are reclassified in the face of new relational dynamics and shifting epistemological paradigms. Moreover, such dynamics and interpolation serve to reveal the boundaries of humans as a corporal, cognitive, and agency-laden construct. Discovering such boundaries, one may glean where humans end, where humans are called into question, and where humans stand to augment themselves or become more than human.

Our understanding about ourselves and about our relationships with nature around us has increased significantly due to the continuous advances in science and technology. Reality is not static since humans and the rest of nature are dynamic, indeed, and both are changing constantly. Transhumanism transcends such static ideas of humanism as humans themselves evolve at an accelerating rate. In the beginning of the 21st century, it is now clear than humans are not the end of evolution, but just the beginning of a conscious and technological evolution.

The Human Seed

Since English naturalist Charles Darwin first published his ideas about evolution on The Origin of Species in 1859, it has become clear to the scientific community that species evolve according to interactions among them and with their environment. Species are not static entities but dynamic biological systems in constant evolution. Humans are not the end of evolution in any way, but just the beginning of a better, conscious and technological evolution. The human body is a good beginning, but we can certainly improve it, upgrade it, and transcend it. Biological evolution through natural selection might be ending, but technological evolution is only accelerating now. Technology, which started to show dominance over biological processes some years ago, is finally overtaking biology as the science of life.

As fuzzy logic theorist Bart Kosko has said: “biology is not destiny. It was never more than tendency. It was just nature’s first quick and dirty way to compute with meat. Chips are destiny.” Photo-qubits might also come after standard silicon-based chips, but even that is only an intermediate means for augmented intelligent life in the universe.

Homo sapiens sapiens is the first species in our planet which is conscious of its own evolution and limitations, and humans will eventually transcend these constraints to become enhanced humans, transhumans and posthumans. It might be a rapid process like caterpillars becoming butterflies, as opposed to the slow evolutionary passage from apes to humans. Future intelligent life forms might not even resemble human beings at all, and carbon-based organisms will mix with a plethora of other organisms. These posthumans will depend not only on carbon-based systems but also on silicon and other “platforms” which might be more convenient for different environments, like traveling in outer space.

Eventually, all these new sentient life forms might be connected to become a global brain, a large interplanetary brain, and even a larger intergalactic brain. The ultimate scientific and philosophical queries will continue to be tackled by these posthuman life forms. Intelligence will keep on evolving and will try to answer the old-age questions of life, the universe and everything. With ethics and wisdom, humans will become posthumans, as science fiction writer David Zindell suggested:

“What is a human being, then?”

“A seed.”

“A… seed?”

“An acorn that is unafraid to destroy itself in growing into a tree.”

José Cordeiro (www.cordeiro.org) studied engineering at MIT, Cambridge, economics at Georgetown University, Washington, management at INSEAD in France, and science at Universidad Simón Bolívar in Venezuela. He has published a dozen books in four languages and hundreds of articles.

TEDxRio+20 – Jose Luis Cordeiro – The Future Is Not What It Used To Be

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